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Less than two weeks left until Christmas! Got your shopping done? No? Yeaaaah me neither.
Want to buy someone a great gadget but don’t want to break the bank? You’ve got options! Down below you’ll find a list of some of our favorite gadgets that (A) you should still be able to get in time for Christmas and (B) won’t cost you more than $100.
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Earlier this year, Apple debuted the AirTag — a little puck-shaped widget meant to be thrown into your bag or attached to your keys to track their location. Know your bag is in the house somewhere but just can’t find it? Tap a button, make it beep.
And, well, these things are quite good! I bought four expecting to not find a use for all of them, then pretty much immediately went back and bought four more. I put one in my wallet, one in my pool bag, one in my favorite jacket so I never lose it at a party, one in my car because I’m bad at parking lots and more. The battery lasts a long time and is easily replaceable.
One catch: They really only work with iOS devices, so consider alternatives for Android users.
Apple didn’t invent the concept of fully wireless headphones with the AirPods — but they definitely helped to explode the category.
Lots of competition has since hit the market, much of it worth checking out. Our own Brian Heater checked out Nothing’s $99 Ear (1) buds (pictured above) and found them to be “solid”; Jabra’s Elite 3 in-ear wireless buds, meanwhile, are basic (don’t expect much in the way of noise cancellation) but good.
If they specifically asked for AirPods, you’re gonna have to jump back a generation to get’em for under $100. Gen 2 AirPods are still quite good, but compared to Gen 3 they’ve got a different design, weaker battery life, no water resistance and a few other key differences.
Hue smart bulbs
I started tinkering with Philips Hue smart bulbs a few years ago, and they’re slowly taking over my house. They’re a dead simple and relatively affordable way to make any room feel way fancier, allowing you to tweak the lighting (brightness, color, temperature, etc.) in an instant with your phone or, if you’ve got smart speakers around your house, your voice.
I’ve got a dozen of them around my house now and they’ve been absolutely rock solid for years. Want more smart home gift ideas? Check out our smart home starter guide here.
Price: Three for $90 on Amazon
There are a zillion e-book readers out there … but, for most people, and as much as it pains me, it’s hard to recommend anything over a Kindle. They’re well built, polished and the process of getting a book onto it is about as simple as could be.
If you’re trying to stay under $100, the $75 base model Kindle will get the job done. You won’t get the waterproofing or much brighter LEDs of the $140 Kindle Paperwhite or the $250 Kindle Oasis … but if what you want is a device that’ll let you carry around a zillion books at once with a battery that lasts days/weeks, the base model checks all the boxes. Plus, if ads on the home screen don’t seem like a big deal, they’ll cut the price down to $55.
“This $99 gadget helps you make music, no skill required,” writes Brian Heater.
Artiphon’s Orba is basically a handheld/portable synthesizer, providing a simple interface for throwing beats together on the go. Check out Brian’s hands-on with it here.
Price: $100 from Artiphone
Longer, better charging cables!
The charging cables that come with most phones aren’t great. They’re too quick to fall apart, and way too short — especially if you like to look at your phone in bed. Is looking at your phone in bed a good idea? Nope! Do we all do it anyway? Yep!
Anker’s woven cables are a huge step up. They’re nice and long (6-10 ft), come in lightning or USB-C forms, and the woven nylon cable lasts way longer, in my experience, than the quick-to-fray plastic of the included cables. I keep a few of these around as stocking stuffers and back up gifts.
Anker’s PowerCore Fusion
Speaking of Anker, I’m a big fan of their PowerCore Fusion backup battery.
It’s not the highest-capacity backup battery by any means, but it’s got a neat trick: It’s a wall charger and a backup battery, all-in-one. It’ll charge your phone first, then charge its own internal 10,000 mAh battery — so, assuming you use it as your regular charger, you’ll never reach for your backup battery to find that it, too, is dead. This thing has earned a forever spot in my travel bag and has saved my butt multiple times.
Price: $50 from Amazon
I friggin’ love streaming sticks. They’re ridiculously affordable for all the services they can push to your TV (Netflix! Hulu! Paramount+! Disney+! HBO Max!) and are almost always far far better than the apps built into most smart TVs.
I like the Chromecast a lot — both the standard $30 Chromecast and the $40 Chromecast with Google TV — because I primarily control my TV through apps on my phone. If you want 4K support, Apple TV+ support, or a remote control, go with the latter option.
Alternatively, Amazon’s Firestick range and Roku’s streaming sticks are all quite good.
Basically a Google smart speaker with a display, the Nest Hub hits far above its weight. I put one in my kitchen a year or so back and now use it almost every time I cook — for asking Google “what temperature is medium rare?” for the 37th time, starting timers without touching anything or for playing something from Hulu (read: “Bob’s Burgers.” Always “Bob’s Burgers”) when making a recipe I’ve made a million times before. Plus it’s on sale right now.
JBL GO 2
I’ve been driving way less since the pandemic started. No commute/less socializing will do that.
The unexpected side effect? My podcast listening time plummeted. Turns out I really only listened to podcasts in the car or on the bus.
A few months back, though, I started listening to podcasts in the shower with one of these simple-but-solid JBL GO 2 waterproof speakers, and I love it. It takes me like four showers to get through an episode I used to listen to in one commute, but hey — I’m back to listening!
I tend to just throw this speaker in my bag and take it with me wherever; something I can’t say of the many, many Bluetooth speakers I’ve owned before it. It’s small, feels indestructible, the battery life is good enough that I don’t really worry about it and it’s loud enough to provide tunes at a picnic without annoying everyone else at the park.
Price: $40 from Amazon
This thing turns the iPhone into a proper gaming device, and it feels way nicer than I’d have guessed from the price tag.
Expand controller, drop iPhone in, play. It’s my go-to device for Apple Arcade games (I’ve played way, way too much Sneaky Sasquatch with this thing) or for streaming PlayStation/Xbox games to my phone when I’m in another room.
Price: $99.99 from Backbone
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